G. F. Bradby

Last week, as I mentioned, I was impressed by this Kipling parody, which I found in the conscientious objectors’ magazine, The Tribunal


Lord God of battles, whom we seek
On clouds and tempests throned afar,
When, tired of being tamely weak,
We maffick into deadly war.
If it should chance to be a sin,
At least enable us to win.

Give to the churches faith to pray
For what they know they shouldn’t ask,
And such abounding grace that they
May cheerfully perform the task,
Wave flags, and loyally discount
That fatal Sermon on the Mount.

Give to the people strength to be
Convinced all happens for the best,
To see the thing they wish to see,
And prudently ignore the rest;
So priest and people shall combine
To gain our ends and call them thine.

The poem dates from the Boer War, and seems to have had considerable currency among pacifists during the Great War. As well as the Tribunal, I have found it in The Merthyr Pioneer, probably the most strongly anti-consription Welsh newspaper . Both of these papers describe it as appearing in ‘an evening paper on November 29th, 1901’, which is how it is described when quoted in full in The Churches and Modern Thought, a book of 1911 by Philip Vivian, so this is probably their source.

The author, however, was G.F. Bradby (1863-1947), a Rugby shoolmaster, who was not only a poet, I discovered, but also a novelist. Amazon gives one a chance to ‘look inside’ a reprint of his 1913 novel, The Lanchester Tradition. I took a look, and was immediately entertained by its ironic tone, as it describes Chiltern, a not-very satisfactory great Public School at the start of the twentieth century. I got hold of a copy and whizzed through it in a day – it really is great fun.

The book tells about the (pretty well accidental) appointment of an idealistic new headmaster in a school where complacency rules. It is a book about teachers, not schoolboys, and some of the characters found in Bradby’s fictional common-room will be familiar to anyone who has taught in a school. The most egregious character is the senior housemaster, Mr Chowdler, ‘ the strong man of Chiltern’:

Mr Chowdler owed his reputation for strength, not to any breadth of view or depth of sympathetic insight, but to a sublime unconsciousness of his own limitations. narrow but concentrated, with an aggressive will and a brusque intolerance of all who differed from him, he was a fighter who lovedfighting for its own sake and who triumphed through the sheer exhaustion of his enemies; a Term in which he did not engage in at least one mortal combat was to him a blank Term.

It’s a short book, and one you can whizz through in a day, thoroughtly enjoying the skirmishes between the formidable Chowdler and the new Head. Highly recommended.
What I really want to know, however, is whether Bradby carried the anti-war sentiments he had expressed during the Boer War into the Great War. I think I’ve found a novel of his that deals with the War. I’ll report back when I’ve read it.
(And what I’d like to know even more is what Bradby would have made of today’s great public schools, packed with the coddled offspring of merchant bankers and Russian oligarchs. I suspect he’d find plenty of targets for his lively irony.)


  1. Patricia Anne Pedley
    Posted April 17, 2015 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    G F Bradby

    I think the WW1 book you are looking for is: For This I had Borne Him by George Fox Bradby – a housemaster at Rugby School along with his brother H C Bradby – who lost a son in WW1 – Dan Bradby, Rifle Brigade.

    FTIHBH is very similar to Tell England by Ernest Raymond and deals with two young men going off to Gallipoli [I must check my copy as it is years since I read it!]. GFB changed his stance somewhat after scores of his pupils were killed in WW1 and the loss of his nephew. There is a memorial volume of Dan Bradby’s letters that are extremely moving and another memorial volume of letters from Christian Carver who was one of GF’s pupils.

    Both the Bradby brothers wrote copiously – HCB a noted Shakespeare scholar. The Lanchester Tradition is a poke at Dr David, the new Head at Rugby, who wanted to change things somewhat!

    I hope the above is some help in your search.


    • Posted April 17, 2015 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      Thanks. I shall read FTIHHBH.
      The Lanchester Tradition is more on the side of the reformer than of the status quo – but I bet it contains in-jokes and resonances that are not apparent to the modern reader.

      • Posted May 1, 2015 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        One of the seven volumes of Memorials of Rugbeians Who Fell in the Great War quotes an extract from Bradby’s For This I Had Borne Him as a kind of dedication. It would indicate that he didn’t carry his anti-war sentiment into the First World War and it was written in 1915, before his nephew was killed in April 1917.
        “But to many of us the world can never be the same place again. There are memories which must haunt us till we die, and wounds which time can never heal. Only, we will hold our heads high and look fearlessly into the future, remembering that, when the hour of trial came, the men and boys, whom we had loved and believed in, were not found wanting and turned not back in the day of battle.”

  2. Posted May 1, 2015 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    S. Francis – thanks for this.

    I’ve now read For This I had Borne Him, and will put up a post about it next week. It’s fascinating for the way it shows Bradby’s views on the War gradually developing, until finally he strongly supports the war effort for precisely the same reasons that he had been an opponent of the Boer War.

  3. Mark Bradby
    Posted May 31, 2017 at 1:23 am | Permalink

    Thanks for sharing this poem by GF Bradby that I hadn’t seen before. I don’t know of any more of his writing on war, but I was reminded of a poem by his brother, HC Bradby, recallinn the awful moment when he received the news of his son’s death:

  4. Posted May 31, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this reference, Mark. It is indeed an excellent poem:

    April 1918
    You, whose forebodings have been all fulfilled,
    You who have heard the bell, seen the boy stand
    Holding the flimsy message in his hand
    While through your heart the fiery question thrilled
    “Wounded or killed, which, which?”—and it was “Killed—”
    And in a kind of trance have read it, numb
    But conscious that the dreaded hour was come,
    No dream this dream wherewith your blood was chilled—
    Oh brothers in calamity, unknown
    Companions in the order of black loss,
    Lift up your hearts, for your are not alone,
    And let our sombre hosts together bring
    Their sorrows to the shadow of the Cross
    And learn the fellowship of suffering.

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